Loving Your Enemies

Standard

Preached at New Song Church, East Wenatchee, Washington on January 20, 2019. Titled “But What If I Don’t Have Any Enemies?”

Luke 6 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[e] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do Not Be Anxious About Anything.”

Standard

Today at International Christian Fellowship, which had many fewer folks than usual, I gave a meditation.  Pretty sure others would still call it a sermon, but 1)I didn’t use a manuscript, which I do 99% of the time and 2)I was working my way through chapter 3 and the beginning of 4 of Philippians, giving some commentary to build to a point about how we apply Philippians 4:6 in our current context…this political crisis

Sound starts at 0:00(!) but goes in and out a bit in the first few minutes–that’s what I’m commenting about.

Light and Darkness Manuscript

Standard

“The light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Matthew 8

This is a very simple sermon. It is this: light is life. When we come into the light, when we live in the light, we have life.

Romans 1 describes darkness: “though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.” That darkness. The darkness of sin, the darkness that makes us think wrong. Darkness is death. Things that stay in the darkness fester and rot and lead to death. Staying in darkness kills us.

Jesus is light. When we are in Jesus, we are in the light.

That’s as simple as it gets.

This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

The Gospel is simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Yes, we can complicate it, and yes there are mysteries beyond our comprehension. The Trinity is a barn burner, something I believe without claiming I can fully understand it. But sometimes, we need to return to our basics, our grounding, what roots us.

When we allow darkness in our lives, when we conceal what is evil or what pulls us away from God, we are at a double risk. The first is simply that we do ourselves damage. The darkness has a powerful appeal. An old lyric by the Indigo Girls captures it:

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable/
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear

That’s Gospel truth in secular lyrics. Darkness has a hunger that is insatiable. It will eat you alive. What it offers to satisfy us only leaves us hungry for more, because it can never fill that space inside us. But man, it feels like it can. That’s the lie.

So the first risk of darkness is that it hurts us. We may not feel it, know it, or recognize it. But Jesus is pretty clear about what happens to us in darkness: “Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

The second risk of darkness is that we feel shame and want to keep hidden. The common condition of all humanity is that, when we step into the darkness, we have the urge to go further in so that we don’t have to face our shame.

You know why I make so big a deal of grace? Because it’s the truth. And because if it’s our habit to acknowledge that we are sinners and that we sin and fall all the time, then repenting gets easier. If we create a reputation for ourselves that we do no wrong, it become harder to confess when we’ve fallen. If what we know about darkness is that God rescues us from it, then coming back into the light is cause for celebration, not shame. If you put the shame we feel on one side of a scale and put the delight God takes in us on the other side, our shame is as nothing. Not even a feather. But that’s not always how we experience it, is it?

I’m being totally serious here. People commit suicide because they can’t bear the shame they feel over having sinned, especially sins that lead to public humiliation and/or many damaged lives. But you know what Jesus says? “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who need no repentance.” And if you hear that and think, “Yeah, but he’s talking about sinners who are repenting and become followers of Jesus, not Christians who aren’t supposed to sin,” then I think you’ve misunderstood who we are. Church is the gathered sinners. We aren’t the righteous, except in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us his righteousness—that’s part of the deal—and takes our sin upon himself. We’re still the sinners who repent.

This is what the Apostle John, who really got it that he was a sinner loved by Jesus, wrote in his first Epistle: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

You and I are sinners. We fall into darkness sometimes. No, that sounds too passive. We dive into the darkness sometimes. We go plunging into darkness, chasing things that promise us life but deliver death. The wages of sin are death. And then we go, “Oh, crud, I’m in the darkness again. Don’t I know better? How many times is this?” Then we have a decision to make. Every time, we have a decision to make.

God loves for us to live in the light. Jesus died for us so that we can live in the light. And still, if we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. Living in the light, for us, means constantly returning to the light after we’ve strayed in the darkness and, over time, growing in our belief that God knows what he’s talking about. The hope is that we come to recognize the signs when we are creeping toward the darkness and start to turn back sooner. The day when we turn back from the darkness before we enter the darkness is a great day!

As I said, this is all simple stuff. I’m not telling you this because you’ve never heard it, I’m telling you this because there is darkness in our lives. We have allowed areas of darkness to enter our lives. Jesus calls us back into the light. Here’s a verse I love—Colossians 1:13

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


Jesus has rescued us from the power of darkness. Darkness has power. If you don’t know that, you have not understood our enemy. Darkness has such power that we could not free ourselves from it but needed rescuing. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus died and resurrected and through that act, rescued us from the power of darkness. Darkness now has no power over us, meaning it cannot control us unless we give it control, and Jesus can always bring us back. When we say “we were dead in our sins,” we mean we had no way out of the darkness. But Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus gives us a way out. Jesus Himself
is our way out.

God has not only rescued us from the power of darkness, “the dominion of darkness,” he has also transerred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. We are taken out of the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. 7”In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.

That means our lives, which were being used for evil, are paid for by Jesus’ suffering and transformed into forces or good, for light in this dark world. That’s redemption.

Trusting that you’re tracking with me, I want to get very specific and then look at this broadly.

In a rental car driving back from Costa Rica, I talked with three friends about some darkness in my life. Now, glory to God, it was darkness in my mind and not in my actions, darkness that was calling me with a hunger that’s insatiable, and I, being me, a redeemed mess if ever there was one, chose to talk with my brothers about it. I kind of presented it as a hypothetical, but they’re my friends and saw through me. I needed them to. It was a good discussion, and we all chipped in, but the crucial part of that transaction was that I brought some darkness within me into the light, where Jesus can give me life. Literally, by speaking those words I was following Jesus, choosing not to walk in darkness, and having the light of life brought into me by my brothers, jerks that they are. They asked good questions. They made bad jokes. They did what friends do. They asked what would have happened if I had continued in darkness, which honestly is a great question to ask, especially when I haven’t made the wrong decision, because it allowed me to look down that road and say, “Oh, yuck.” They empathized with my struggle, which is nice. Having people sit loftily above you and fail to imagine how they could be that bad a sinner, well, if that’s what your friends do, may I recommend new friends? That’s what Job’s non-friend friends did.

Here’s my list: I recognized that the thoughts I was having were darkness, not light, Satan calling to me, not Jesus. I chose not to follow them. But that wasn’t enough, so as an act of will, I chose to speak them out loud to my brothers in Christ, my fellow redeeemed compatriots, because darkness cannot bear light. Jesus’ light brings healing to anything we’ve kept in darkness. Anything.

Here’s the other list. Check it for yourself.

I could have told myself it was not that big a deal. I could have rationalized that it was just bad thoughts, so what? We’re in a very stressful time personally within a very stressful time corporately and it’s understandable that my brain might go sideways. I could have told myself that I’m too mature still to be dealing with this. Obviously, I’m not, but aren’t I supposed to be? Or shouldn’t they think I am? What will they think of me? Will they think less of me? Will they tell people?

Those are all such reasonable-sounding thoughts. But none of them are the voice of Jesus. That’s the darkness calling.

This is not a sermon on accountability or on having good friends—pretty sure I’ve given that sermon here at some point—but I’m very blessed with good friends and I pray God blesses you that way, too.

One more point on darkness. Being in the darkness, as it sounds, means we will have trouble seeing. We’re talking symbolism here, something we can understand to help us grasp something that we cannot yet understand. To me, the scariest part of being in the darkness is convincing ourselves that we’re not really in the darkness at all. It usually happens by degrees. I hate seeing this and I’ve definitely seen it too often.

In Matthew 6, right smack in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this: 22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

In context, Jesus is talking about money and possessions. Immediately before this, he says, 19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Then he says the eye is the lamp of the body and a healthy eye will make your body full of light but an unhealthy eye will make your body full of darkness. Right after this, he says No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

So how does the health of our eye relate to being in light or darkness? Remember, Jesus is using symbolism. This is not an optometry lesson, it’s spirituality. It’s discipleship.

If your eye, the part of you that registers and seeks and brings in light, is healthy, then you will be full of light—the light we’ve been talking about, Jesus’ light, the light that gives us life. But if your eye is unhealthy, instead of bringing light into your body, it will bring in darkness—but you’ll think it’s still light. That’s why Jesus says, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Being in darkness is bad, but to be flooded with darkness while you believe you are in light? What’s more dangerous? How will you repent? Why would you repent?

The strongest example we have of this is the Pharisees, who believed that they knew God better than anyone else, but were completely blind to God incarnate, standing right in front of them, calling them to repent. They told Jesus his power came from Satan. The Son of God comes directly to you, demonstrates his power, and says, “Come, love people like I do,” and you say, “No, you’re the devil.” If the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

I want you to note that their version of being in the darkness but refusing to see that they are in darkness, is all religious. It isn’t that they no longer believe in God; they believe that they know God better than everyone else, better than Jesus, the Light of the world as he stands there talking to them; that’s exactly what keeps them in darkness. This is utter blindness.

 

It can go either way, of course. I’ve also seen people decide that what they used to call “sin” was actually just fine, after all, and the only real problem had been feeling bad about it in the first place. I call that tragedy.

But if we’re going to be honest about the world we live in, I’ve also seen people freed from legalism and guilt over things that I believe had nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but were exactly the empty law-keeping Paul talked about. Colossians 2 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”?22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.”

So here we are, trying to walk with Jesus in the light, and we need to discern what is light and when we are in darkness. We need faithful friends who sin like we do, love Jesus like we do, and can speak truth to us: “Yeah, that’s darkness, Come out of there.” Even better if we have the friends who can also say, “Dude, you’re being a Pharisee. Come out of there, too.” The good news is that, astoundingly, Jesus wants us in the light even more than we want to be there. We’re all conflicted and want to have life in Jesus but also sort of flirt with the darkness; Jesus, in whom there is no darkness at all, is not the least conflicted. He just wants us in the light. Ultimately, that’s where our hope is. John experienced this personally: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Even if this starts to seem complex, it’s still simple. Recognizing darkness and loving light comes through loving Jesus. When I spend time with Jesus, when I immerse myself in the Gospels, when I give myself to the things that help me know him more deeply—for me, loving young adults, recreating, writing in my journal, reading spiritual truth from good writers, hanging with the other faithful, redeemed sinners—I grow in my ability to distinguish light from darkness. I grow in my love for being in the light with Jesus, doing his Kingdom work.

I want to close with a glimpse of the big picture. We all know a lot about what’s happening here right now in our beautiful, beloved Nicaragua. It’s horrible and it’s scary. I believe it is also a picture of walking in darkness instead of light. John 3

This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

It may have started with some small darkness. It may have started with some minor-seeming self-deception. I’m guessing there were moments when people could have spoken the truth and challenged the darkness, but that didn’t happen. Or it was rejected. And it grew. It multiplied. There is a dominion of darkness and a Kingdom of light. Those aren’t just physical realities, nor merely when people decide to do good stuff or bad stuff. Those are spiritual realities, spiritual realms in warfare. When mothers whose children have been killed march in protest and people murder some of those marchers with sniper rifles, we’re seeing the kingdom of darkness right in front of us.

Going back to our first two verses: “The light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

People are walking in darkness all around us. That’s always true, but it’s out in the open now. Jesus is the light of the world and He shines in the darkness. The darkness has not and will not overcome it. We follow Jesus. We are in Him, in his light. We do not walk in darkness, even when the darkness is all around us. When you see darkness like this, there’s nothing appealing or tempting about it. It’s ugly and brutal. This is what darkness really is, no matter how it dresses up.

Our job, as I see it, is to keep on being light. I know a lot of us feel helpless and scared. It is scary. Nothing wrong with feeling scared. That’s common sense. But letting fear control us is different. I know we’re praying, and that’s exactly what we have to do, that’s what we do first and that’s no small thing. In truth, that’s the biggest thing. To quote John Bunyan, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.” That sounds pretty good right now.

The other thing I know to do is keep calling people back to focus on Jesus. With my human eyes, I can’t see right now how God is going to bring peace and justice here, but I am believing he will. Ultimately, our hope is not in human solutions, but in God’s love and grace. People come to know Jesus in crisis, when they know their need. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. This is the time to speak up about our hope. Share your light. Come, Lord Jesus.

God Is

Standard

Nicaragua, as you may or may not know, has been in turmoil and upheaval.  Marches and demonstrations continue.  We are praying for peace AND justice.

As I was praying about what to preach, the impression I got from God was to focus on who God is and what that means for us in crisis.  

 

Audio starts at :42 (the buzzing stops) and you missIt’s been a very strange couple of weeks for us. We went on a trip to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary. Two days later, the protests began. Some of the seniors in my Bible class…”

Is It Saturday or Sunday? Manuscript

Standard

I’ve never preached a Holy Saturday service. Christians also call it Great Saturday, Easter Eve, or Black Saturday.

If you do a Lenten reading of the Gospels, going back forty days and planning ahead to read the resurrection stories on Easter, Holy Saturday reading is pretty easy.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was placed in it. 56 Then they went home. There they prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath day in order to obey the Law.

Verse fifty-five is for context. Verse fifty-six is it, and only the second half. They went home and prepared spices and perfumes on Friday, before their shabbat, their sabbath, had started. Jews observed the sabbath from sundown to sundown. This day, this Saturday, is also referred to as The Great Sabbath.

What happened during the Great Sabbath?

Nothing. The women followed the Jewish law by resting on the Sabbath. Nothing changed.

Jesus was taken and murdered, except it was state-sanctioned so we call it “executed,” betrayed by the religious leaders, who lied and framed him during his mockery of a trial, then turned him over to the soldiers who occupied Israel, who hated the Jews and with a full-throated, racist hatred. That sign, “The King of the Jews?” Step back from the double-meaning that you might know and think about that. They took a Jew and beat him viciously, then put him in a robe and “crown,” laughed at him and spat on him, then made a sign to let the world know that this ragged, bleeding criminal was the Jewish King.

Do you understand that? Soldiers for the occupying army are making very clear that any uprising under this king will fail. The Jewish leaders, the ones who turned Jesus over to this torture, protested: “Don’t say ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man claimed to be King of the Jews.’”

19 Pilate had a notice prepared. It was fastened to the cross. It read,

Jesus of nazareth, the king of the Jews.

20 Many of the Jews read the sign.

That’s because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city. And the sign was written in the Aramaic, Latin and Greek languages. 21 The chief priests of the Jews argued with Pilate. They said, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews.’ Write that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.

22 Pilate answered, “I have written what I have written.”

They wrote in three different languages, “The King of the Jews.: They wanted everyone in sight, anyone who could read, to grasp that there would be no Jewish uprising, no Jewish King. This is what happens to a Jewish King.

Conquering armies conquer, and when there is any threat of rebellion, they usually crush it ruthlessly, violently. When King Herod thought there was the slightest chance of a baby growing up to overthrow him, he had all the children three years old and under slaughtered. All of them.

That’s the power ruling on Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoon, Jesus is dead. The women are resting because that’s the law on the sabbath. The soldiers are soldiering, doing their duty. Beating and flogging and humiliating Jesus, that was just their duty, maybe something they enjoyed more because they really did hate the Jews or less because “let’s just kill him and be done with it.” Pilate went back into his palace. The crowds disbursed.

Joseph of Arimethea, who was on the Jewish Council. had not only a change of heart but such a transformation that he dared take responsibility for a dead criminal and provide him a place of honor to bury him. He took Jesus and had him buried in an empty tomb, not a pauper’s grave, not just tossed by the side of the road. It was a strange decision, to put this stranger, this false prophet, in an honored place of burial, where no one had been buried before. Then Joseph went home and rested, too, because anything that could be done, he had done.

 

Sunday morning comes.

Everything changes on Sunday. Literally everything changes for us.

Is is Saturday or Sunday?

 It was very early in the morning on the first day of the week. The women took the spices they had prepared. Then they went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from it. 3 When they entered the tomb, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They were wondering about this. Suddenly two men in clothes as bright as lightning stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified. They bowed down with their faces to the ground. Then the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 Jesus is not here! He has risen! Remember how he told you he would rise. It was while he was still with you in Galilee. 7 He said, ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinful people. He must be nailed to a cross. On the third day he will rise from the dead.’ ” 8 Then the women remembered Jesus’ words.

9 They came back from the tomb. They told all these things to the 11 apostles and to all the others. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them were the ones who told the apostles. 11 But the apostles did not believe the women. Their words didn’t make any sense to them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He bent over and saw the strips of linen lying by themselves. Then he went away, wondering what had happened.

 

First thing Sunday morning, nobody knows anything has changed yet. Think about this moment. This is our moment that I want us to understand this morning.

The women wake up, probably first, certainly very early. Or maybe they didn’t sleep. I’ve been there, both ways. Have you ever woken up, felt good, felt normal, and then remembered? Maybe a tragedy, maybe a horrible situation, and it hits you again as you’re waking up, a brick to the face. You wish you could have stayed oblivious for another 30 seconds, just to not have to remember how bad things are. But they are and forgetting doesn’t change it. Even worse is when the grip of grief and shock and sorrow won’t let you go and nothing you do can pry their grip loose, not even long enough to drift off for a few minutes. It’s “very early in the morning,” which can also be translated “at early dawn” or “before first light.” The women are trying to get to the tomb early. Do you know why? They want to dress the body before it starts to decompose. At this hour on Sunday morning, their direct concern is the practicality of dealing with a corpse.

Step back. You know what’s going to happen next. You know what they’ll find when they get to the tomb. Go split screen in your mind. Picture this is what the women are talking about, this is the mood in their rooms as they light candles to go out in the dark to perform the last act of service, the final gesture of love for a man who can no longer do anything for them. Was he wrong? Were his teachings false? Was his belief in God too hopeful? Did God fail him? Do any of those questions even matter now that he’s dead?

Their hearts are heavy as stone and they’re trying to follow through with an act that is the right thing to do but in the end what does it mean for this dead man? And they’re going to an empty tomb. They’re minutes away from encountering angels. They’re about to find out that everything, everything has changed and Jesus wasn’t wrong about any of it. They just couldn’t grasp what he told them.

Get this: Jesus wasn’t wrong about any of it; they just couldn’t grasp what he told them. How true is that for us?

Easter means that although we’re still talking about taking care of Jesus’ body, Jesus has risen from the grave. We’re still discussing whether they’re going to come hunt us down because we followed him. We’re asking one another, “Who will role away the stone?” We’ll get answers, and so far beyond the scope of what we could have imagined. What is Peter thinking about on Saturday? Imagine what Peter’s Saturday night was like…

When the women come back from the tomb, which does not have a dead body that “belongs” there, but which does have two beings dressed in white who don’t normally belong there, the men, the male disciples, the fishermen and the tax collector and the revolutionary, don’t believe them.

5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

They think the women are looloo, loco. This may be borrowing trouble, but do they not believe them because they’re women? Women were not legal witnesses in that time and culture, were the legal property of their husbands or fathers, and I don’t think it was a mere coincidence that these women got to be the first witnesses. These were women who had faithfully followed Jesus. On one level, God gave them this in keeping with how Jesus exploded the confining, smothering, dehumanizing roles of women in their culture. Jesus taught them as he taught the disciples, making them companions among his followers, receiving financial support from them.

On another level, the Messiah who taught that genuine, meaningful greatness comes from service, who washed his twelves apostles’ feet hours before he died, rewarded these women’s humble service by giving them the good news of Resurrection first. Isn’t that just like Jesus? The women came to the tomb to dress the body with spices and perfumes. For this tiny attempted action, they got to see angels, they got to hear news beyond their most desperate and ridiculous hopes. Jesus taught that a mustard seed of faith is enough to move a mountain, that giving a cup of cold water to any thirsty person is an encounter with God, that two tiny copper coins given in faith equal more than piles of coinage given for show, and their following through on this menial job instead of despairing and fleeing to their homes made them the first to switch from Saturday to Sunday Reality.

But the men laugh at them, or scoff, or ignore or rebuke or scold. The women are living in Sunday morning, they have moved through darkness and despair into Resurrection and hope. Sunday morning, the men are still living Saturday. Jesus is not in the tomb, but they still believe he is. The women told them the truth, and they brushed it off. There is the Reality that exists on Sunday, and then the reality the men are still living. They’re wrong. They’re in the dark. But right in this moment they are basing all their thoughts and decisions in this Saturday reality in which they believe.

Except Peter.

Peter has to see.

These are wonderful words to me: “But Peter.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb.

Peter has to know. If there’s any slightest chance that the Saturday Reality is not the Final Word, not the Final Interaction Peter will have with Jesus, Peter has to see. I’m picturing that the rest of the guys are laughing and snarking at the women, or just won’t even respond:

“Yeah, right, there’s no body there, Jesus grew wings and flew away, did you see his body, you stupid—Peter, where are you going? Peter!”

He bent over and saw the strips of linen lying by themselves. Then he went away, wondering what had happened.

Even so, Peter is not sure. Now his reality is somewhere between Saturday and Sunday. There’s no body there. Jesus’ corpse is not in that tomb. What happened? Faith begins when the reality we “knew” with certainty suddenly gets shaken up and maybe, maybe…this is true? U2 describes this in a song: “At the moment of surrender/Of vision over visibility” When the vision of what is True becomes more real than what’s visible to my physical eyes. That’s the moment of faith.

But Peter is still going fishing on Sunday because that’s what he knows and he’s going back to the reality he lived before.

Jesus is going to have to confront Peter more directly, with a lot of fish, before Peter moves all the way into Sunday reality.

 

In which reality are we living?

I’m not saying if we just believe in Resurrection, all the bad things in our world will disappear. I am saying everything changes for us, in us, and the impossible things become possible.

Sunday morning, racism can change. It can. You know how I know? Slavery used to be legal. Slavery in many countries in the world became illegal when followers of Jesus spoke out against it, and fought it, and refused to accept it any longer because Jesus had changed their hearts. Jesus had taught them to see people differently. Jesus had overcome death and made the impossible, possible.

Sunday morning, death no longer wins. Sunday morning, the racist hatred that killed Jesus can be overcome by Jesus love in the power of His resurrection.

Sunday morning, the women go the grave to serve in the last way available to them and come back with a wild tale. They are the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ, after all.

Sunday morning, we can change the current epidemic of violence against women. The reports don’t mean it’s suddenly happening, they mean it’s finally out in the open, and in the light is where sin loses its power and God heals and restores. Sunday morning means we repent of sexism in our own relationships and then follow Jesus by speaking out and calling our churches first, and then our societies, to repentance. We aren’t living in Saturday anymore. It’s Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, we decide if we believe everything has changed or if we are still living in Saturday.*(Big old footnote)

Saturday, we have disciples who think their time of following Jesus has ended. Now listen to what happens after they experience Sunday:

27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

That’s Peter, the same Peter whose words on Friday were, “I swear to God, I’ve never heard of this man Jesus!” This is the difference between Saturday and Sunday. Peter says this to the exact same people who tried Jesus and convinced Pilate to crucify him.

Here’s what happens next in Acts 5:

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35 Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Gamaliel speaks the truth of Sunday: if it is God, you will not be able to overthrow them; if you oppose what they do, you may even be found fighting against God.

Did the disciples believe they could change the world? I don’t know. But they did. The disciples, by the power of God through the Holy Spirit moving in them, changed the world. That tiny little band of Jesus followers who had given up on Saturday because there was no hope left in the world saw Sunday, found out that the women were right, and then saw Jesus Christ risen from the dead, right there with them, talking with them, answering their questions, giving them a hard time for their doubts. And they proceeded to preach the Gospel and all of us who have heard the Gospel have heard it because they spoke it and it spread throughout the world.

 

I will tell you the truth: Things look bad to me right now, in a lot of ways. Some things that I’ve prayed to see change seem to be getting worse. I know that sin and brokenness are real in the world and they have consequences.

But it’s not Saturday. Jesus rose from the dead. He did. It’s Sunday and I’m going to live like it’s Sunday.

The difference between knowing about God and knowing God is that if you know God, you also know that God can change you. If you know God, you’re already changed. You might have forgotten it, you might be ignoring it now, you might be doubting it, but God has changed you and will continue to change you. You’ve already lived Sunday. If you’re back to living Saturday, I get it. It’s easy to do. But it’s not Reality. That’s not the truth.

This is the picture I want to leave you with. It’s not a choice between Saturday when I’m hopeless and Sunday when I know I can make things happen.

This is knowing Jesus and the power of His Resurrection: If we live in Saturday, we are blind to the reality that Jesus has died and risen from the dead; we are weeping over an empty tomb.

If we live in Sunday, we follow Jesus who rose from the dead and will lead us where He chooses, in His power, and He will change us and change the world through us. Our job is not to laugh at the women when they come tell us. Our job is to run to the tomb, to believe the unbelievable because we know it to be true—vision over visibility—and then to follow Jesus, to live Sunday, to let God lead us where the Spirit’s Power will open the tomb and raise the dead to life again.

 

 

*This is an excerpt from my friend Erna’s blog, Feisty Thoughts. I considered including this in my sermon but didn’t.  

I need an Easter that has an answer for Trayvon, Tamir, Rekia Boyd, Sandra, Bland, and Stephon Clark.
I need an Easter that has something to say to survivors of Indian Boarding schools, and the generations of those traumatized by its legacy.
I need an Easter that has something to say about white supremacist evangelical Christianity.
I need an Easter that has something to say about white women who wont’ stop crying and recentering race conversations on themselves.
I need an Easter that has something to say to young queer believers who are considering suicide instead of coming out.
I need an Easter that addresses patriarchy in the Korean American church.
I need an Easter that sees and helps undocumented people whose families are being torn apart.
I need an Easter where you don’t have to be a perfect, super special, amazing immigrant for people to care about you.
I need an Easter that can dismantle the NRA.
I need an Easter that can address gun violence.
I need an Easter that addresses mass incarceration and the for profit prison system.
I need an Easter that doesn’t just talk about living water, but gets clean water to Flint.
I need an Easter where sexual violence against women, especially women of color, is talked about openly and addressed courageously.

Every year Easter is about individual sin. But I need an Easter that is big enough for our collective sin and brokenness, big enough for our systemic and institutionalized brokenness. I need an Easter that goes beyond the personal. The things that overwhelm my heart and soul right now have less to do with my personal wretchedness, than the brokenness of the systems I’m embedded in, participate in, and that impact me and the communities I love.

Seeing for Yourself Manuscript

Standard

It’s first light, just coming over the horizon, but you’ve been up for an hour already. That’s early, even for you. Your brothers must have had a surprise, jumping on your mat to wake you and finding nothing except mat to land on. You’re on your second trip back from the well now, so your hardest chore is almost over. It’s a little risky, hauling water in the dark, especially now, when the city is going so crazy with Passover coming, but it’s obvious you don’t have anything of value, unless some lazy thug decides the water in your bucket is worth beating you up. But now home is within sight.

Today is the day. People have been talking about it all over your neighborhood. It’s actually funny to hear them talk about him because there’s always a better story. It sounds just like fisherman or hunters who keep outdoing one another.

“No, I heard he told the Pharisees they were children of hell.”

“Yeah, but my cousin said he heard directly that he walked on water. On top of the water!”

“Your cousin didn’t see that, though.”

“No, but he heard it from the guys who follow him everywhere.”

“So? We heard he cast a demon!”

“One? My aunt who lives in Galilee, where he spends all his time, said he cast out a whole legion of demons!”

“That’s just crazy. Nobody has a legion of demons.”

“Yeah, but that’s not crazier than Lazarus. You know what they’re saying about Lazarus, right? That’s a respectable family. They’re not gonna make something like that up. There were like a hundred people there. Who would make that up? I think that might be true…”

Then, every time, the talk turns to what he might do to the Romans. It’s always funny to hear adults whispering just like kids. That’s when you have to turn invisible to get to hear. Nobody does that better than you. How many hundreds of times has your mother told you never to speak to an adult except when the adult speaks first? You just took that as a strategy. Stand still, or sit silently, look away from the speaker, act like your attention is elsewhere, never ever make eye contact, and it’s like they can’t even see you. You’ve even heard some neighbors hint that you aren’t all that bright. Nobody cares if the slow child is hanging around, playing in the dust. Poor slow child. If they only knew how many secrets you’ve heard.

Today, you’re also telling a little bit of a not-quite-truth. Of course, it could be the truth.

“I got my chores done early. Can I spend the day with Daniel?”

Daniel might be there. If he was smart, he would be. But it’s not that likely, because Daniel is a little too cautious. But he’ll be out chasing around, playing hide with the others, so it won’t be obvious to anyone that you’re not with him.

Yeah, it’s a little crazy. But your mother is just happy the chores are done. Your dad won’t be back until late. He won’t even know you were gone. And one fewer child around to fight and get in the way? Mother’s fine to see you go.

The leaving part is easy. The arriving might be something different.

Everyone in town and every stray dog knows he’s coming today. The rumors about him disagree and conflict sometimes, but somehow there’s a one-hundred percent certainty he will arrive in Jerusalem today. They’re even sure which road he’s coming by. It’s as if runners are going ahead, announcing his coming, but that’s not something to say aloud. That’s what they do for victorious generals and, of course, the Roman Emperor, may the Almighty One remove him from that accursed throne.

But that’s why it’s irresistible. How many false Messiahs have come through Jerusalem? How many claiming they are “The One?” How many strong men have gotten killed in doomed uprisings? Too many.

But what if…? What if this really is the one? Today might be the day! There’s something different about this one, if any of the stories have any truth to them. He doesn’t claim to be Messiah loudly and proudly like they all did, but he’s done ten times more to make people think he is. He calls himself “Son of Man.” What does that mean? The old men debated that passage from the Prophet Daniel. How could this man, this son of a laborer, claim to be what Daniel describes? That’s impossible.

Unless…

So no one really knows who he is, not really. Maybe his closest followers do, but nobody here. The whispers have gotten louder and more excited; there might be ten thousand people in the streets when you get there, even going as early as you possibly can.

As you get closer–and it is a long walk, even for you–you can hear the crowd well before you see them. It’s loud, like a buzzing, like what they say locust sound like when they come in clouds, just like you’ve always imagined happened in Egypt. How many people can this be?

Too many. Change of plans. There’s no way you’re going to get even a glimpse of him unless he’s riding into the city on an elephant, like they say that one general did against Rome. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Then everyone would know his intentions for certain!

You’re doubling back on your path now, because the further outside the city you can intersect with his path, the better chance you’ll have to see him. Then what? Maybe try to walk along with the crowd? Not for the first time, you consider this could get dangerous. What if it turns into a riot? What if—just what if—the Romans have heard, since everyone knows, it’s the worst-kept secret ever—and they bring their centurions? That seems unlikely, but there are rumors…

Still, that’s exactly why you can’t miss it. What if…never to be said aloud, just in your own thoughts, and the Almighty’s ear…the centurions do show up, and he…he…someone who can overpower demons and tell a storm to stop, could he…could he wipe them out?

Any risk is worth the tiniest chance to see that happen to these evil dog occupiers. Right? After all they’ve done?

When you reach the road going this way, further from the center of the city, there’s still a crowd, but not as big yet. Oh, but they’re excited. It’s like one of those high holy days when everyone starts in early: people shouting to make themselves heard over everyone else’s shouting. It’s funny to watch grown-ups behave like this.

A bunch of them are waving branches around that they must have just cut down from the palm trees near the road. The smell is really strong and green. Is green a smell? They’re waving those branches around, fanning themselves, and it’s almost like sea waves. Crazy.

You keep pushing up the road, and there’s the Eastern Jerusalem gate where the Mount of Olives comes down into the city. You’ve come too far to hesitate or second-guess, but if your parents ever heard you had gone outside one of the city gates by yourself… Better not to think about it. You say a quick prayer that you won’t have the dumb luck of being seen by someone you know.

You pass through the gate, which is wide and if there are guards anywhere you can’t see them through all these people. He’s got to be close now. Everyone’s waving those branches and some are tossing them out on the road. But there’s something else on the road. What is that? You’re hiking up this hill and everyone here has committed to holding their space, so you have to squeeze in between people, but you’re really good at that, almost as good as you are at becoming invisible. You take extra care not to step on anyone and keep weaving in between families and shouting men and other kids jumping up and down, trying to see, even though there isn’t anything to see yet.

As you weave, you pass really close to the road. Those are people’s coats! Cloaks and shirts and all kinds of clothing, folks are just tossing them into the road. Crazy! You see a nice one that might be your size but it’s probably a really bad idea to grab it.

The shouting suddenly crescendos. People are going crazy now. You chose well. If you stop right here, you’ll be able to see him for sure. Especially if he’s on an elephant, or, more likely, a stallion or maybe an ox. But something in you, some weird urge, refuses. You push on, now bumping into people, but everyone is bumping and colliding. It’s that kind of crowd now. You’re not a pickpocket and you better not be mistaken for one now or you’ll get beaten or killed.

There he is! He’s on a…wait—he’s on a tiny horse. No he’s not; he’s on a colt. Maybe a yearling? Hang on—that’s a donkey colt! It’s too sturdy in the legs to be a horse colt, but it’s really young.

People are whooping and shouting and you’re laughing and you literally can’t hear yourself it’s so loud, but that is not an elephant! Why would he choose that? And he’s not…he’s not handsome. His eyes are…

“Hosanna!” everyone shouts around you. More cloaks thrown into the road. More branches. “Hosanna to the son of David!” “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Stop, stop!” someone yells behind you. You look back and almost jump into the street. It’s a Pharisee, a whole group of Pharisees, with their special cloaks which they have not thrown and they are not waving palm branches. In the midst of everyone screaming and crying out to the Most High, what are they saying?

A stout one who bellows like a shofar overpowers everyone around him: “Teacher, make them stop! Order your disciples to stop! This is heresy! What they say is an abomination!”

The colt is walking so slowly but the man stops it. He looks right at this Pharisee. What words could describe this man’s eyes? The crowd isn’t quiet but it’s maybe half as loud, with people pausing between shouts to see how the man will answer. Everyone says he doesn’t get along with the Pharisees; some even claim they want him silenced, or worse. But now you aren’t hearing stories, now you are seeing—and hearing—for yourself! No one will believe this. But that’s okay; you could never risk telling anyone, anyway, because if this got back to your parents…

“I could tell them to be silent. I could. But I tell you, if these were silent,” and he gestures with his arms at all of you standing close by, “the stones themselves would shout out.”

He didn’t say it loudly but everyone explodes with screams and hollers and “Hosannas,” what feels like ten times louder than before. Except you. You turn to look at the Pharisees and they are huddling together, no longer looking at the man, talking amongst themselves.

You aren’t yelling because you’ve determined you’re going to get as close as you possibly can now. There’s no way you’ll be able to follow along through the crowd, even though he’s going slower than slow, because their stacked up too dense and wild and that won’t work to sneak through, even for you. The only other choice is to go out into the road with him and his followers. You don’t belong there and they’ll throw you out the second they notice you, so that’s crazy and stupid…and here you go.

It’s not hard getting out there. Nobody’s pushing against you, once you take that step, but with all this wild crowd on the sides, there are only a few big clumps of people out in the road. You’re not going to blend in with any of these huge guys with beards and–

He stopped. He just stopped in the middle of it all and got down from his donkey colt. You freeze dead still. You’re about four people away from him, big burley men, but that close. If anyone looks at you now, you’re done. Maybe this is the time he does something powerful? But since the moment you saw that donkey colt, the military attack has seemed unlikely. Who attacks on a little colt? You’re just a kid and even you know that.

The man turns his head and for a split-second, you think he’s going to look right at you. But he’s looking down the hill. You suddenly realize there’s a tremendous view from here. You can see most of the city. You might be able to find your house if you looked long enough.

You’re not making any sudden moves, because this is how you’ve learned not to be noticed. But when you shift your eyes you can see the man’s face and when you shift them back, you can see the whole city.

He’s looking out at the city, then around at the group of men and women with him, then back out. He puts his hand on the nearest man’s shoulder.

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

And he cries. His voice choked while he said that and now he’s standing there, crying. In the middle of this frenzied parade, you see tears dripping off his face. His followers are staring at him. You’re staring at him. Of the things you’ve seen today, this would be the hardest to explain, the hardest for people to believe; yet for some reason, this is what you most want to tell. Who is this man?

Then he looks at you. Not maybe. He’s looking right at you. His followers are staring at you.

Panic rises in your chest. He steps over to you.

And then he puts his arms around you and hugs you. His arms feel strong enough to snap you, or to lift the entire world, but his hug is gentle…and then he lets go and climbs back on the colt and he and everyone else move on. One of his disciples, a really ugly one, nods at you as he goes, like he knows what you know, what you now know.

But you stand there, alone, on palm branches and cloaks, as their shouting moves off into the distance.

Is that the Messiah? What kind of Messiah is he?

What’s going to happen next?

You start back for home.